Martina Navratilova shares story, inspires at annual Executive Women’s Day luncheon

By Tori CouchMay 21, 2024No Comments

Martina Navratilova shares story, inspires at annual Executive Women’s Day luncheon

By Tori Couch
Photos by Tori Couch

Martina Navratilova became a Texan more than 45 years ago. 

After a loss in the semifinals at the 1975 U.S. Open, she walked into the immigration and Naturalisation Service office, wanting to defect from Czechoslovakia at the age of 18. She lived in Dallas and Fort Worth in the years following that decision with a stop in California too. In 1976, Navratilova received honorary Texan citizenship.

The rest, as they say, is history. Navratilova rewrote the tennis record books, entered the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000 and became the oldest player at age 50 to win a Grand Slam title in mixed doubles at the 2006 U.S. Open. 

She returned to Cowtown on Tuesday as the keynote speaker at the 2024 Charles Schwab Challenge Executive Women’s Day luncheon on Tuesday. 

Navratilova, who gained U.S. citizenship in 1981, did notice one thing in particular about Fort Worth upon return. 

“Everything’s off Hulen [Street],” Navratilova said as the women in attendance laughed. “That’s all I know.”

The EWD luncheon has been held during the Charles Schwab Challenge PGA TOUR tournament week since 2013. The event provides local women and business leaders an opportunity to network.

Navratilova shared stories about her time in Texas, competing against other tennis greats, including friend Chris Evert, and life after an incredible playing career. 

Navratilova won 354 titles and an unprecedented 59 grand slam titles, featuring nine singles championships at Wimbledon, three at the Australian Open, two at the French Open and four at the U.S. Open. A rivalry with Evert lasted 15 years and 80 matches. Navratilova walked away with a 43-37 advantage.

Early on, Evert dominated the rivalry, at one point posting a 22-4 record against Navratilova.

“I remember Chris talking about her rivalry with Evonne Goolagong,” Navratilova said. “That’s all she talked about. And I’m like, what about me? But I think she didn’t consider me quite the rival yet because I hadn’t beaten her enough.”

That started changing when Navratilova beat Evert in the 1978 Wimbledon singles final. A new rivalry emerged and the two women became friends during the ensuing decades. That friendship has withstood the test of time, proving extremely important when both women fought cancer.  

Evert was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in late 2021 and it returned late last year. Navratilova battled a non-invasive form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in 2010. A doctor visit in early 2023 revealed two cancers at once — throat cancer and breast cancer. Navratilova received the “all-clear” later that same year.

“Whenever I was really, really down, there was Chris with either a call or a text just thinking of me,” Navratilova said. “That was timing. Her timing was unbelievable.”

A background in athletics also helped with these adverse situations

“Cancer, immediately you get into the solution, and then once you get a plan, then you have that goal,” Navratilova said. “Very goal-oriented as a tennis player, and you have to be very disciplined and stay positive. You can’t feel sorry for yourself, or think about it too long, because you get the next point to play in 20 seconds. So that mentality really came in very handy for both Chris and I in getting to the solution.”

Navratilova has kept busy following retirement in 2006, working as a broadcaster on the Tennis Channel, BBC and Amazon Prime. She also wrote several books while playing tennis, including “Shape Your Self,” a guide to personal fitness and healthy living and a trio of thriller novels.

An appearance on the television show “Dancing with the Stars” in 2012 is also on Navratilova’s resume. Her wife, Julie Lemigova, is on the show “Real Housewives of Miami.” The couple lives on a small farm in Florida.

During the luncheon, Executive Women’s Day and Colonial Charities donated to The Women’s Center of Tarrant County and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County through the “Help a Sister Up” campaign. The campaign supports local charities that provide services for women and girls. The Women’s Center and the Boys & Girls Clubs each received $80,000.

A three-year commitment from EWD and Fort Worth Colonial Charities will provide more than $500,000 in charitable impact to the two non-profit organizations. 

Before the keynote ended, moderator Deborah Ferguson of NBC 5, asked Navratilova how the idea of helping a sister up had played out in her life. Navratilova recounted several stories where other tennis players, including the legendary Billie Jean King, helped her improve on the court, even if they were playing against each other the next day. She returned the favor for younger players as her career progressed and continues sharing knowledge as a broadcaster. 

“Help a sister out because it’s the right thing to do,” Navratilova said. “It’ll make you feel better, and it’ll help them out. And who knows how it’s gonna come back to help you maybe 10 years down the road. You never know.”